Come fly with me …..


Well, he’s in the air somewhere over the Atlantic at the moment and should be landing in just over 3 hours.

He’s got his riding gear, he’s got his route planning hard software, the sat navs are loaded with the latest USA maps, credit cards are ready to use – what else can he possibly need ?

Oh yes, a bike …….. but there’s that slight „issue“ to overcome – the U.S. Customs …..

 

 

 

 

Unfinished business – riding the Iron Butt Rally 2017


Only 36 hours to go before I take off to the US….

After 2013, this is my second attempt to become a finisher of the notorious Iron Butt Rally, the toughest long-distance motorcycle rally in the world. I will leave on Monday morning, 26th June from Minneapolis and will return 11 days later, after some 11.000 gruelling miles, having seen many corners of North America. This time, I start this adventure with a „proper bike“, i.e. the Honda ST1100 Pan European. I bought it in 2014 for very little money with the purpose to ride the Iron Butt Rally 2015, but in the end I cancelled my participation back then.

The bike is optimised for long distance rallying and has an impeccable track record: out of nine rallies since 2015, it came second once and won all the rest of them. A good recommendation for the Iron Butt Rally. In the last months, I optimised many features and spent a lot of money to revamp the bike. With support from Mart!n, Bavaria’s best motorbike mechanic, the bike got a complete make-over: a new (almost new) motor, a new drive shaft, refurbished alternator, new brake discs with brake pads and refurbished pistons, new water pump, new wheel bearings, refurbished fork, steering bearing, a new cruise control, and and and….not to mention all the improvements (farkles) I had installed earlier: the highest wind shield, a day-long Russell seat, a new, smaller auxiliary tank, handle bar risers, heated gear, improved suspension, 14000 lumen LED headlights, 15000 lumen auxiliary Clearwater LED flood lights….

I will write more before the start of the rally, but I want to take the opportunity to introduce my back-up writer for the duration of the rally: my friend Mr John Young, probably the fiercest Triumph fanatic east and west of the Mississippi. He did the blogging four years ago during my first Iron Butt Rally. I will be banned from social media during the rally so he will keep you updated on my adventures. Knowing John, this could be quite entertaining…

I’m back …….


and for the next couple of weeks will be reporting on the adventures of my favourite Bavarian, Robert, as he again takes on the challenge of the Iron Butt Rally – an 11 day, 11,000 mile scatter rally ….

Despite my pleadings that he should use a Triumph, he has again chosen to attempt this rally on a Honda, albeit a different one from last time.  For 2017 he is using a Pan-European.

he is attempting to convince all and sundry that this particular bike should allow him the „privilege“ of being in the „Hopeless Class“.

Huh ???  It has indicators and an electric start for goodness sake ….. How can that ever be considered a „Hopeless Class“ candidate …..

 

 

 

 

 

Hattrick – The Brit Butt Rally 2017


OK, the Brit Butt 2017 is over and finally find some time to write some lines. This is what I had prepared before the rally:

Well, here I am. Sitting in the hotel room, trying to work out the challenge that the rally master of the 2017 Brit Butt Rally has thrown at us.

I arrived yesterday here in Leicester and have passed all the tasks today (registration, odometer check route, technical inspection, rider meeting). It was an unusual hot day here, but unfortunately the weather will bring some thunderstorms to the British Isles tomorrow; Sunday should be fine again.
I have finally enrolled for the rally with the aim to use it as a shakedown or dress rehearsal for the big Iron Butt Rally I will ride in June/July in North America. The bike was prepped considerably and this will be the last test before it will be shipped over the big pond. As I have won the two previous Brit Butt Rallies, I am in a very relaxed mood. I have no pressure at all and apart from testing the bike, I want to have fun during the rally.
I had already had an idea before the rider meeting what the rally could bring, but it was even worse than expected: there was no rally book, just a list of towns that could be visited, all of them starting with the letter „Y“ or „Z“. There were no predefined locations, you had to find the name of the town on a sign or board to prove you were there. Every town had a value that was doubled if you visited another Y town in the same county, i.e. 1 – 2 – 4 – 8 – 16 – 32 – 64. Every county visited acted as a multiplier for the obtained points.

The possible locations to be visited in the BBR17

So this was a complex equation, although there was a simple solution to it: Get some high point counties and visit their 6 or 7 locations and visit many single-location counties to increase the multiplier coefficient. A very mathematical rally, but not my cup of tea. I had decided to enter the rally to test everything. The route planning templates were useless in this case. This was not the rehearsal I was prepared for. I was considering to cancel my participation, but decided that I still could test the bike. I always loved the BBR for the big points, great rides, scenic places, spectacular locations. Searching for signs or other written names of the place in little villages, maybe at night, was not what I expected from this rally. Well, in the end I had designed a route and planned to ride it until Saturday evening and would then decide if I continued the rally.

We left at 6 a.m. as usual and I headed for Wales. In some villages, no signs were available, so I had to take a picture of a town sign, knowing that only a total of five town signs were allowed. In Wales it was cool and cloudy.

Welsh – a book with seven seals.

After three hours, I parked my bike in front of the Yarpole parish hall. I was sure that the bike was standing safely. Five seconds later the bike had crashed into a railing, smashing the windshield and right mirror. I need the help of two men to get it upright again. I quickly taped all the broken parts and continued the ride, much more chilly without the big windshield.

The route in Wales.

When I left Wales at 6 p.m., I was more than one hour and half behind my very ambitious route.  I decided to skip one point for I had booked a hotel in Swindon and my plan said I would reach it 1 a.m. However, it was clear that I would be late. I visited all seven points in county Devon and bagged 127 points, visited one point in Cornwall. I had to ride for one hour against the setting sun, swearing about the single track farm roads with grass or dirt in the middle and the shadow on the road that made the riding extremely risky. Finally it was dark and I could switch on the floodlight I had installed: 14000 Lumen H4 LED Cyclops lights plus the 15000 Lumen Clearwater Sevinas. And night turned into day. This makes night riding rather quick. Until the mist slowed me down. A lot.

In Exeter it was clear that I wouldn’t get to the hotel before 3.a.m., so I asked in a Travelodge motel for a room. Fully booked. I checked the booking.com website: In Exeter, 100% booked. OK, let’s continue. I bagged many points near Yeovil, but the fog was very nasty. Finally, I arrived at the hotel at 4:30 and spent my 4 hour rest break there. After a refreshing 2 hour sleep, I had a quick breakfast and continued my ride. I knew that my initial plan to go to Yorkshire was impossible, but I wanted to continue it as far as possible.

A typical picture of a „Y“ village location

I visited Oxfordshire, rode on the M25 and visited Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. I realised that I could not get more counties so I decided to sit down in a Costa Cafe in a shopping mall and did my paperwork, as it had to be presented at the finish before 5 p.m. The scoring was not perfect, despite my double checks I missed to claim one county and some more points. I had visited more than 60 locations. But 13250 points sounded not too bad, should be good enough for the podium. Unfortunately, John Young had to drop out due to an infection, but there were still enough rivals for the top. At the ceremony, I was called with the Horsefall brothers to the podium. They both had formed a team and had obtained about 8200 points….oooops, this meant….I had won the Brit Butt for the third time in a row! Unfortunately, I had no time to celebrate, as I had to hit the road for I had to work the next day.

My GPS track of the BBR17.

At home I discovered that the rear wheel bearing made a screeching noise….luckily, I have discovered it. Just image if this would have happened during the Iron Butt Rally! Apart from that, I think I am well prepared for it! 🙂

The 2016 review…what about 2017?


So 2016 is over…many things happened, but how was my motorbike season? Well, it was a special one, maybe unique. Again, there was no big, adventurous trip. But there were many smaller trips and lots of rallies.

In early 2016, I announced the biggest motorbike project I ever have planned. I had convinced Gerhard, the IBA Germany’s president, to organise the Alpenbutt Rally in 2017 with me as the responsible rally master. It is supposed to be nothing less than the toughest long-distance motorbike rally ever organised in Europe.

Rally scouting lets you discover new places.

Rally scouting lets you discover new places.

Six days of almost constant riding is already a big challenge, but riding the six days entirely in the Alps opens a new dimension. I had planned to visit more than 400 possible locations in the Alps to check if they were suitable to be bonus point locations. In the end, it skipped about 80 places, but still more than 350 were left to be form part of the fiendish rally book that will be handed out to the participants. I had already done a lot of scouting trips in 2015, but 2016 saw again a lot of trips – finally I could visit Slovenia, covered most of Switzerland and did the Western Alps as well. I had seen a lot of the Alps in my life, but visiting many of these places was new to me and I made some great new discoveries.

Interesting places wait for the participants of the Alpenbutt Rally!

Interesting places wait for the participants of the Alpenbutt Rally!

All the hotels at the start, checkpoint and finish were booked when I finally announced the rally together with the publishing of the Alpenbutt website. Together with Florian, the IBA Germany’s web designer, we managed to establish a professionally looking page that should reflect the high expectations of this event. The response so far was overwhelming. I had arrangements for 50 participants, but in October I arranged to increase the capacities to 75 starters. By the end of the year, 60 participants have registered already and I think there are more to come.

There was only one purely „touristic trip“ this year: the trip with John on our old bikes (86’ XBR500 and 69’ Triumph Trident) to Russia. Actually, we lost one day due to a supposedly dead alternator of the XBR, so we had to skip the plan to go to Moscow.

In Riga with John Young.

In Riga with John Young.

At least we wanted to make use of our visa and see Kaliningrad and ride over the Curonian Spit. So we did and visited also Latvia and Lithuania and got really washed in a massive thunderstorm on the way back in Poland. It was a nice, very relaxing trip that proved that we can form a good team on a longer trip as well.

And then there were the rallies. In the end I participated in all European IBA rallies but one. I skipped only the Brit Butt Light Rally in 2016 because the burden with the scouting trips and the rallies was getting too high at a certain point. But nevertheless, I participated in five of them. In 2015, I had the crazy idea if it would be possible to win all the (big) rallies in Europe in one year. This seemed presumptuous – nobody had ever done this, it just seemed too difficult.

In May, I went to the Brit Butt Rally as defending champion – in 2015 I had won the BBR as the first non-British with a spectacular ride.

London. Sunday mornings are the best time to visit.

London. Sunday mornings are the best time to visit.

So this year everybody wanted to beat me. Although I didn’t find my way into the rally, I secured the first place narrowly with a high-risk last 30 minute finish. Title defended. Sometimes you need a bit of luck on your side.

The next rally was the Scandinavian Rally. I had some mixed feelings – my last participation in the annus horribilis 2014 brought me my last non-podium finish, but also changed things from then on.

Second attempt after returning again yo Växjö. This time with me in the picture.

Second attempt after returning again to Växjö. This time with me in the picture.

It started and ended in Södertälje and led me through beautiful Southern Sweden. I had my first encounter with a moose at night – luckily I was going very slow so I could admire this massive animal without getting in danger. In the end it was again a very close shave for the first place – turning around to get back to a bonus point location to take a second photo WITH ME in the picture secured another narrow first place.

Then I skipped the Brit Butt Light, but already one week later I did the Magic 12 Rally leaving from home, starting in Brussels and finishing in Krefeld. The rally book was sent one week in advance so everybody had a lot of time to find his own personal route.

Magic 12 Rally.Düsseldorf.  I hadn't realised for 20 min that I had parked the bike right next to the photo location.

Magic 12 Rally.Düsseldorf. I hadn’t realised for 20 min that I had parked the bike right next to the photo location.

Mine started in Brussels early in the morning and led me through the Ardennes, Luxemburg, the Eifel, Düsseldorf and the lower Rhineland. At the rally finish, Gerhard had organised a big BBQ where we awaited the results. My mate John did his best to win his first rally in Germany, but my route gave me more points, so…another first place.

But the most important rally was still to come…unfinished business…in 2014, I dropped out of the five-day European Tour Rally in a virtual top position, so I was eager to do well in the six-day European Tour 2016. It started again in Stuttgart and had Brno in the Czech Republic as the checkpoint. I chose my route via Innsbruck, the Dolomites, Slovenia and Budapest, where I stayed in a hotel for a short night rest. The next day I crossed Slovakia, entered Poland for a short while and arrived at the checkpoint in time.

Ski Jump, Slovakia. Lovely weather.

Ski Jump, Slovakia. Lovely weather.

I knew that the crucial part was the second leg…I had intended to go around the Iberian peninsula, but the numbers in the rally book told me that the place to go was Ireland. So I set off the next morning, crossed the Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and took the tunnel train to Folkestone. Not without a nerve-wrecking two-hour dramatic delay at the terminal in Calais. I crossed England as quickly as I could and took the night boat in Fishguard to Ireland. The next morning I started my adventurous day in Rosslare, went to Dublin at rush hour, passed Cork and Tralee, went to Limerick and Galway, Roscommon and Sligo.

How to disappoint somebody? Old Irish man: "Aaaah, he was a grrreat Hurley player, do you agree?" Me:"Er, don't know. Never heard of him!"

How to disappoint somebody?
Old Irish man: „Aaaah, he was a grrreat Hurley player, do you agree?“
Me:“Er, don’t know. Never heard of him!“

Basically, I toured most of the island in one day and bagged almost all big points there. After a tough day, I decided to have a relaxed stay in Sligo as there was no need for a rush: I couldn’t get the early ferry to Scotland in Belfast anyway. I bagged some points in Northern Ireland in the morning and arrived in Cairnryan around noon. After a few stops around Newcastle and Middle England I boarded on the tunnel train and enjoyed the luxury staying in my own bed that night. The last morning I bagged some more points in Belgium, Luxemburg, Alsace and Germany before I headed aback to the rally hotel. All seemed lost again when the bike stopped some 20 miles before the finish, but luckily it was only some under-pressure in the fuel system. The toughest contenders John and Giel shared my fate of 2014: they dropped out of the rally in Denmark and France, respectively. But as I was the only one to choose the winning route to Ireland, no-one could beat me this time: with a tremendous 30 % lead in points I won the European Tour 2016.

Finally arrived after 7900 km through 14 countries in six days.

Finally arrived after 7900 km through 14 countries in six days.

As a last treat in 2016, I joined the short Iceni Rally in East Anglia in September. Instead taking the XBR500 this time, I rode the big Pan European, but as a handicap, I chose to take my mate Johannes as a pillion with me. With an estimated total curb weight of about 550 kg, this should be enough handicap for the small roads in East Anglia. When we the saw John’s rally bike, the Triumph Explorer, and not his clunker Trident at the start, we knew that he took it serious this time, no handicap from his side.

Johannes the quick pillion!

Johannes the quick pillion!

All right, best case scenario would be a podium finish. During the 8 hours of the rally I missed my little XBR when I had to manoeuvre this big battle ship called Honda Pan European over some single track farm roads. In the end, I changed my plan with a smart little move that was quite risky, but gave us 175 more points… enough to win the rally with a 80 points lead over John. Incredible, the first two-up victory in the history of the European IBA rallies!

I really felt sorry for John and the other riders at the end of this year…All these five rallies were won by the same guy! I know that this gets a little boring for the other contenders. During the European Tour I was already wondering if I should take a break from rallying, should I win the rally. The last two and a half years were an incredible achievement – bagging records one by one. Since June 2014, I have won all rallies but two (DNF in the European Tour 2014 with a crushed BMW gearbox; second place in the Brit Butt Light 2015). Winning the Brit Butt as first non-Brit and defending it; winning two rallies on a non-farkled Honda XBR500; winning the first rally with a pillion; having won all four 24 h German Butt/European Road Runner Rallies since 2005; and last but not least: having won all (regular) European IBA rallies at least once (German Butt, Brit Butt, European Tour, European Road Runner, Scandinavian Rally, Brit Butt Light, Magic12, Iceni Rally). There is only one record left that will not be broken: Rob Roalfe’s six consecutive wins of the Brit Butt Rally 2008 – 2013. So what is there still left to do? Shouldn’t this be the best moment to retire and let others have some part of the cake as well?

Yes, it would be the best moment. However, I like this sport too much to renounce it completely. But a break would be a good idea.

And here comes the outlook for 2017. As I see it now, there is little chance that I will participate in a European rally. The biggest thing will be the Alpenbutt Rally anyway where the best riders will fight for the crown of the best rally rider in the Alps. But as the rally master, I can’t participate. Oh, I forgot to mention that I never was beaten when a rally covered the Alps. So this will be a nice hand-over. I have put all my 30 years riding experience in the Alps in this rally, all I can recommend and show to others, this is my legacy to the rallying and motorbiking community. This is as good as it gets.

And then there will be the other big project in 2017: after the drop-out in 2013 and the cancellation in 2015, I want to participate again in the mother of all long distance motorcycle rallies, the Iron Butt Rally in the USA. I feel it is probably the best time to try it again, I have gained a lot of experience and I’m at the top of my rallying performance. The European Tour 2016 was a good test. Unlike 2013, I’m not overwhelmed by this enormous task anymore. There’s still a lot of respect, after all it is a hell of a rally, but I sense it is not as frightening anymore as in 2013 when I was struggling to become a finisher on a small Honda XBR500. At the time being, my bike is refurbished by Mart!n which should give me peace of mind that a technical breakdown will be as unlikely as possible.

There is a small possibility that I might use the Brit Butt 2017 as a shakedown rally before the big Ironbutt to test the bike with all its old and new farkles and upgrades…. But I think I will decide this late in spring.

So there will be a big change in 2017. The last years were marked by intense rallying, maybe it’s time for something else? We will see…

The Iceni Rally 2016 – the first rally two-up was a success!


Back at home. Yesterday, I did the eight our Iceni Rally in East Anglia with Johannes as my pillion. We had quite a good plan worked out and started at 9 a.m. from Cambridge. The morning was basically a long ride on farm roads until we reached Norwich in the early afternoon. Here we were enough ahead of the plan to add another big point at the coast. Last year, on the XBR500, this seemed so much easier, but riding with a ~630 kg bike on some back roads is a physical challenge.

Team Pan, East Anglia North Coast.

Team Pan, East Anglia North Coast.

I was often not very well focused and missed quite some turns. As a consequence, I could not add two smaller extra locations close to the finish, the was only time for one. And then I had a cunning idea: instead visiting the closer and more obvious one for 150 points, I decided to skip it and get to the other location worth 285 points. Only a small difference, but from my personal experience I knew that rallies are decided in the very end and a few points can make all the difference. The problem was that this route would result in getting four minutes late and thereby getting 200 penalty points. So, if I could catch up two minutes, I would still have a benefit. 30 minutes to go, give it a try! It worked, Johannes was a quick pillion at the bonus point as before and in the end we even arrived before the normal finish time. I counted 12.623 points, that sounded quite a lot; I had been optimizing the route during the last days. In the end there was no extra trophy for the best team (I was hoping for that one), only for the best newcomer. Third place went to Steve Eversfield, and then there were only John Young and us left. The difference between first and second place was a mere 99 points!!! Finally, the risky stunt with the last bonus point location had paid off and we came first! John was very disappointed coming second like this, but he shouldn’t be, because he rode a great rally and missed the first place by only 0.8 %! That’s basically a draw.

After the ceremony, we headed with both bikes to the Tunnel and arrived at 2 a.m. at my place. And interesting experience riding with pillion in a rally, but riding in East Anglia is better done on the small XBR! 🙂

Winning route Iceni Rally 2016

Winning route Iceni Rally 2016

Let’s increase the handicap – the Iceni Rally 2016


After a very successful rallying year, it is time to have some fun. Last year, I had won the new Iceni Rally in East Anglia on my little Honda XBR 500, despite a „veteran“ handicap. The rally is the shortest LD rally with only eight hours but is supposed to hook new people to LD rallying. It is a nice day out with the opportunity to practice new things, especially at bonus point locations, because there are many compared to the total rally time.

This year I want to try something special. I have never ridden in a team or with a pillion before – why not trying this? So my mate Johannes will join me as a pillion and we will ride the rally together on the Honda Pan European. I removed the auxiliary tank and installed the original seat again. The idea to ride with the XBR would have been more work and I was simply too lazy. But that is still another option for the future. We rode only two-up once: when after the legendary XBR Alpentour 2003 his XR600 broke down in Liguria, we went back on my XBR with double luggage, crossing the Alps, having big fun chasing much bigger bikes.

The rally book was provided in advance and I have to say that finding the optimum route was a tough nut to crack – a good chance to test your planning approaches and tools. Rally master Mark Fowler has put together an interesting rally for newcomers and veterans.

The bonus point locations of the Iceni Rally 2016

The bonus point locations of the Iceni Rally 2016

If you want to follow our track in real-time from Saturday morning onwards:

https://spotwalla.com/tripViewer.php?id=1263c57e4ddf4f0503